There are some specific steps Wisconsin policymakers can – and should – take to improve its business startup rate, which once again anchored the bottom of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s annual index. The real reasons for Wisconsin’s quasi-permanent status as a Kauffman bottom-feeder, however, likely have more to do with who we are as a people versus what state or local government can do.
Agriculture, manufacturing and tourism are the holy trinity of the Wisconsin economy and may always be so, given the state’s rich traditions in all three sectors.
Technology increasingly drives each of those sectors, however, and is slowly building an impressive standing of its own in terms of the jobs and value it adds to the Wisconsin economy. A recent national report makes the case.
The 2017 “Cyberstates” report from CompTIA, the nation’s largest leading tech association, showed Wisconsin cracking the 100,000-job barrier in 2016 for the first time. The report, which draws upon a mix of public and private data, counted 101,542 state tech workers last year compared with 97,633 in 2015.
MADISON – A few years ago, when Brian Kaas attended some of the nation’s leading conferences for venture capitalists, the audience was predominantly investors from stand-alone venture funds.
Today, when the managing director of Madison-based CMFG Ventures takes part in such gatherings, the makeup includes many more “in-house” funds within larger corporations.
When President Trump took office in January, the White House web site rolled out a goal consistent with his campaign pledges on the economy.
“To get the economy back on track, President Trump has outlined a bold plan to create 25 million new American jobs in the next decade and return to 4 percent annual economic growth,” reads a portion of the page on “Bringing Back Jobs and Growth.”
There’s nothing wrong with ambitious goals: Elected officials often set them to challenge their colleagues, competitors and citizens alike.
MADISON – With his proposed cuts in federal research and development spending, President Trump risks harming a priority he puts at the top of his own list – national security.
The history of federal investment in R&D, especially since the end of World War II, reflects a bipartisan consensus that money spent on basic and applied research pays economic and security dividends over the long haul while helping the nation respond to short-term crisis.
Many entrepreneurs, especially those who are Millennials or younger, focus on products or services designed for people like themselves. The list includes software applications of all descriptions, grab-and-go food and drink, wearables and “athleisure” products, to name a few.
That makes market sense given there are 75 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 34, and they aren’t often shy about spending on consumer goods and services.
When Zach Halmstad looks at the under-construction Confluence Arts Center, the software entrepreneur sees more than a performing arts building.
He sees a big part of the future of downtown Eau Claire.
“This is economic development through the arts,” said Halmstad, who launched Jamf Software in the early 2000s with a couple of friends and has since led its growth to 600 employees, 10,000 customers and eight offices worldwide.
The story of Jamf and the renaissance of downtown Eau Claire has flowed together, much like the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers in that western Wisconsin city of 64,000 people.
Viewed from afar these days, it might be easy to conclude that life in Washington, D.C., has become a reality show gone awry.
Cabinet-level nominees stepping down amid claims of wrongdoing; a president seemingly at war with the press and members of his own team; an intelligence community at odds with the source of its authority; and a bureaucratic “swamp” that refuses to be drained.
Not to be overlooked, however, are the real issues facing Congress, the White House and the nation as the hard work of governing marches on.
A century or more ago, there were plenty of people in Wisconsin who cringed at the thought of all those horseless carriages, motorized bicycles and boats buzzing about. And yet, it was precisely that kind of innovation that built a signature part of Wisconsin’s modern economy – and which can be repeated today with an aggressive welcome to autonomous vehicles.
Wisconsin has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. Think of the marquee companies that remain the state’s economic “calling cards” – Oshkosh Corp., S.C. Johnson, Johnson Controls, Manitowoc Co., Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton, Johnsonville, Kohler, Kohl’s and Quad Graphics. These companies all have one thing in common: They were named after the Wisconsin community of their founding or the last names of their founders.
Many elements make up a thriving entrepreneurial economy. Among them are cultures that reward risk and don’t penalize honest failure; workers who are diverse in terms of skills and training; clusters of innovation in cities or universities; and access to capital.
Just as high on the list is a regulatory climate that encourages the free flow of talent and that lowers barriers to entry into the startup economy.
Just catching up on some recent topics…
Following a Dec. 29 column on the pros and cons of toll roads, an attentive reader noted that tolls need not apply to all lanes on a stretch of freeway. In Colorado, for example, express lanes in parts of the Interstate Highway system help manage congestion and speed up travel for motorists. Drivers who choose to pay the toll can use express lanes in the Denver area that are otherwise reserved for buses and carpools.
As he stood before a crowd at the annual economic forecast luncheon of the Wisconsin Bankers Association, Gov. Scott Walker was upbeat about what 2017 promises for the state. His caveat, however, was all about people.
To be specific, Walker wants to ensure there are enough people ready, willing and able to take part in Wisconsin’s under-pressure workforce.
For many years in Wisconsin, the number of success stories in the high-growth sectors of the economy were few and far between.
Epic in Verona, Plexus in Neenah, Logistics Health in La Crosse and Promega in Fitchburg remain among the most familiar stories of companies born and raised here, in part because they’re mature companies with long track records. Fortunately, the list is growing.
The latest round of investment in Midwestern BioAg Inc. caught many eyes simply because of its size: The 33-year-old company has raised $21.3 million to continue a $40-million recapitalization that began in 2014.
It also deserved notice because of a phrase used to describe the role of two of its latest financiers: “Mission-related investments.”
Whether it’s new companies raising money, established firms moving to the next stage or investors reporting strong returns, there have been some solid harbingers for Wisconsin’s early stage economy in the past month or so.
Launching and growing a business is 90% about the idea, the initiative of the founders and the team they build to bring that product or service to market.
It’s also 10% intangibles that include a support system, formal or otherwise, which lays a foundation for entrepreneurs and their communities to succeed. Here are some upcoming opportunities that fall under that “10% edge”.
In a room that was once little more than a storage area for largely unused equipment, the Waunakee School District is outfitting a space where students can explore their futures.
Dedicated this month at a breakfast that highlighted investments of time and money by community business leaders, the fabrication laboratory – or “fab lab” – within Waunakee High School is still a year or so away from being fully operational.
Already, however, students are using a laser engraver to turn out specially ordered drinking glasses for a wedding and on the horizon are more computer-operated machines, such as 3-D printers.
The longest-running investor pitch event in Wisconsin is the annual Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.
By one name or another since the 1980s, this conference has been giving entrepreneurs and young companies a chance to tell their stories to investors. It has helped fuel some remarkable success stories, with companies such as Promega, TomoTherapy, Virent, Mirus Corp., Sonic Foundry, Prodesse, NimbleGen, Nerites, Idle Free Systems, Third Wave Technologies, Stratatech, Sologear, PanVera, Soft Switching Technologies and many more taking the stage over time.
A creative provision in the Assembly Republican “Forward” agenda released in early September is the pledge to provide every high school freshman with a computer or tablet to connect them with the internet.